A second experiment that may fail 

Providing a strong alternative to the BJP in the near future may be difficult even if leaders of the Janata parivar put aside their personal egos and put up a united front

November 20, 2014 01:42 am | Updated April 20, 2016 05:40 am IST

In the past few months, there have been multiple attempts by some leaders of the Janata parivar to become united, either through a merger of their parties or by simply forming an alliance against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). These attempts are driven only out of a fear of getting swept away by a ‘Modi wave’ when Assembly elections are held in their States. After winning the 2014 Lok Sabha election with a majority of its own (282 seats), the BJP has not only managed to obtain a majority on its own in Haryana, but also emerged as the single largest party in Maharashtra despite contesting without long-time ally, the Shiv Sena. It is true that some of these leaders played a crucial role in forming an alliance against the Congress, first in 1977 and then again in 1989, but the idea of forming a similar alliance against the BJP at this moment seems somewhat misplaced. Neither do these leaders remain as popular or as credible as they were when they were younger, nor does their party command similar support among voters.

Lack of consensus

The first signs of this plan came when leaders such as Janata Dal (Secular) chief H.D. Deve Gowda, Rashtriya Lok Dal chief Ajit Singh, former Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Janata Dal (United) member Sharad Yadav and Samajwadi Party (SP) member Shivpal Singh Yadav shared the stage at a rally in Meerut. There was another meeting in Delhi early this month which was attended by Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) supremo Lalu Prasad, Sharad Yadav, Nitish Kumar, Deve Gowda, Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) MP Dushyant Chautala, and SP chief Mulayam Singh. But even after these two meetings, there seems to be a lack of consensus over the course of action.

If these leaders believe they can create the same euphoria which they managed to generate in 1977 and 1989, they seem to have failed to read the 2014 verdict correctly. Having experienced governments led by most of these leaders over the last two decades, people don’t seem to have the same faith in them as they had during the earlier Janata experiment or during the 1989 V.P. Singh wave. All these leaders are popular individually in their respective States, but it may be extremely difficult for them to come to an understanding over who would lead this front. The voters may wonder if these leaders would be able to provide a stable government or if they would just be fighting among themselves. Facing corruption charges and accusations of poor track records, most of these leaders would not be able to appeal to voters outside their respective States. Currently, the combined national popularity of major leaders of the Janata parivar is only a fraction of the individual popularity of Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi. (The National Election Study 2014 of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies showed that 36 per cent of the people wanted to see Mr. Modi as Prime Minister, 14 per cent wanted Mr. Gandhi, and only 5 per cent wanted Mulayam Singh, Nitish Kumar, Lalu Prasad or Deve Gowda to occupy the post).

Support for the various splinter groups of the Janata parivar has declined over the years even in their respective States. The vote share of the RJD and JD(U) in Bihar, SP in Uttar Pradesh, INLD in Haryana and JD(S) in Karnataka has declined significantly during the last decade. From a 33.9 per cent vote share in 1999, the RJD’s vote share declined to 20.1 per cent in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. Similarly, the vote share of the JD(U) has declined to 15.8 per cent in 2014 from what it used to be — 26.4 per cent in 1999 (in alliance with the BJP). The vote share of the ruling SP in U.P., which swept the Assembly election only a few years ago, was only 22.2 per cent in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. The INLD in Haryana recently suffered its third successive defeat in Assembly elections in the State. Though the party still had a 24.1 per cent vote share in the recently concluded election, this is a visible decline compared to its vote share of 29.6 per cent in the Assembly election in 2000. The JD(S) does not even have a presence in the whole of Karnataka; its presence remains limited to the southern region of the State. Even if these leaders put aside their personal egos and accept someone as their leader, it may be difficult to provide a strong alternative to the BJP in the near future given this declining support.

Popularity appeal

A major reason why this alliance would not be as effective as the leaders consider it to be is that none of these parties or leaders has a cross-State popularity or appeal which could help the principal splinter group in a State in mobilising additional support. It is difficult to imagine how Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Singh coming together can help Mulayam Singh get more votes in U.P. or Lalu Prasad get more votes in Bihar. Similarly, it is beyond imagination how an alliance with Nitish Kumar and Mulayam Singh can help Dushyant Chautala in increasing electoral support in Haryana, or how an alliance with the JD(S), which contested only six seats outside Karnataka in 2014, can improve electoral prospects in the Hindi heartland.

This is clearly evident in an analysis of the 2014 Lok Sabha election result. In Bihar, the SP got less than 1 lakh votes in the entire State, a fraction of the BJP’s victory margin on most seats. The JD(U) and the SP together polled less than 10,000 votes in the whole of Haryana and less than 30,000 votes in Karnataka. The only State where a merger would work is Bihar, but primarily because of the coming together of the two principal State parties. They would be able to help each other as they have a common support base comprising the Other Backward Classes, Muslims and Dalits. Their coming together would consolidate support among Muslims, most sections of the OBCs and Dalits, making the alliance a formidable force against the BJP as was witnessed in recent by-elections in the State.

More than their own agenda or leadership, prospects for the success of such an alliance would only arise if the BJP government at the Centre makes some massive blunders which would leave voters completely disenchanted. One must remember that the 1977 experiment may not have happened if Indira Gandhi had not imposed Emergency. The 1989 Jan Morcha experiment of V.P. Singh may not have happened if charges of kickbacks in the Bofors case wasn’t an issue.

The BJP may still have managed to emerge as the single largest party in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, but the magnitude would have been lower if the UPA government had performed better. Yes, these leaders can form an alliance, but they can hardly do anything to force the ruling BJP government to create a similar mess.

(Sanjay Kumar is Director, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi, and Pranav Gupta is a researcher with Lokniti, a research programme of CSDS.)

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